Piano Quartet No.1 in G Major, Op.202 No.1
During the last ten years of his life and for the three decades following it, Joachim Raff (1822-1882) was regularly mentioned in the same breath as Wagner, Liszt, and Brahms as one of Germany's leading composers. The experts and the public judged him to be the equal to such past masters as Mendelssohn, Schumann and Tchaikovsky. Incredibly, by the 1920's his music had all but disappeared from the concert stage. It seems virtually unimaginable that a composer whose talent was recognized and whose music was admired by Mendelssohn and Liszt, could become a mere footnote, yet this is what became of Raff and his music for most of the 20th century. Only now is he being rediscovered to the delight of those fortunate enough to hear his music.
The Piano Quartet No.1 in G Major Op.202 No.1 dates from 1876 and is Raff's penultimate piece of chamber music. It is a substantial work in four movements. The huge opening Allegro has for its main subject a joyous, rhythmic dance full of energy. It is followed by a gentler and more lyrical second melody, full of yearning. Raff places a scherzo, Allegro molto, next. It begins with the piano growling through a rushing theme in its lower registers. The strings join in and take part in an extended moto perpetuo section. It is sometime before a longer-lined melody finally is introduced by the lower strings. This serves as the trio section though it is hardly distinguishable from the main section, so seamlessly is it woven together. The slow movement, Andante quasi adagio, arguably is the quartet’s center of gravity. Though not so marked, it is in essence a theme and set of variations. It begins with a very lengthy piano solo in which the dignified main theme is stated in full and actually developed When the strings enter, many measures later, the piano falls silent. After the strings elaborate on the theme in a highly romantic setting, the piano rejoins them as the music slowly builds to a dramatic climax. The celebratory finale, a triumphant Allegro, is full of good spirits
Here is a piano quartet which must be considered a major addition to the standard literature for piano quartet. That it has fallen into oblivion is truly a shame and we hope that by making it available once again, amateurs and professionals will take the time to make its acquaintance.